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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1976 (SND Vol. X).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

WRAITH, n. Also wreath, writh; †wrath, ne.Sc. vraith and met. form warth (wm.Sc. 1868 Laird of Logan App. 522; Ayr. 1890 J. Service Notandums 4). [reθ]

1. (1) An apparition of a living person, usu. taken as an omen of his death, a double-ganger (Gall. 1824 MacTaggart Gallov. Encycl. 482; Uls. 1953 Traynor); any premonitory token of danger or misfortune. Gen.Sc. and now adopted in Eng. after Scott.Sc. 1712 R. Wodrow Analecta (M.C.) II. 143:
Noe more but that light about her head and shoulders; and added, it was her wrath, and a signe she would dye.
Edb. 1772 Fergusson Poems (S.T.S.) II. 83:
I dreamt yestreen his deadly wraith I saw Gang by my ein as white's the driven snaw.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems 184:
At last, the queer spectre, drew near like a Warth.
Wgt. 1804 R. Couper Poems I. 277:
The turf haf-lifted shapes thy bed, Thy wraith wi' gloamin's seen.
Sc. 1808 Jam.:
The wraith of a living person does not, as some have supposed, indicate that he shall die soon. Although in all cases viewed as a premonition of the disembodied state, the season, in the natural day, at which the spectre makes its appearance, is understood as a certain presage of the time of the person's departure. If seen early in the morning, it forebodes that he shall live long, and even arrive at old age; if in the evening, it indicates that his death is at hand.
Slk. 1820 Hogg Tibby Johnston's Wraith (1874) 188:
When a wraith is seen before death, that is a spirit sent to conduct the dying person to its new dwelling.
Sc. 1845 J. Grant Romance of War xxxviii.:
I saw the shot before it came, because there was a wreath before my een, and a' the power o' the taisch was in me.
Slg. 1862 D. Taylor Poems 31:
Or had ye only sent a wraith, To warn him o' your comin', Death.
Sc. 1885 J. G. Dalyell Darker Superstitions 182:
In Scotland it is yet a superstitious principle that the wraith — the omen or messenger of death, appears in the resemblance of one in danger, immediately preceding dissolution.
Dmf. 1899 Country Schoolmaster (Wallace) 36:
Sometimes the wraith of a person approaching disclosed itself, although the visitor was yet miles away.
Ags. 1920 A. Gray Songs from Heine 30:
You ill-daein' wraith, gae hod your face!

Comb. (i) wraith-bell, a supernatural bell heard to toll before a death; (ii) wraith-light, a light seen shining over a person fated to die.(i) Wgt. 1877 G. Fraser Wigtown 210:
They heard the wraith-bell jow that nicht, An' a' were fu' o' wae.
(ii) m.Lth. 1870 J. Lauder Warblings 77:
A wraith-light gleaming o'er him Bright and ghastly as a star.

(2) A sign, portent (of weather). Phr. a wraith o rain, applied to a white fog rising in the Solway Firth, taken to presage rain (Dmf. a.1838 Jam. MSS. XI. 218).m.Sc. 1898 J. Buchan J. Burnet iii. xvii.:
The mist was drawing closer. . . . I minded an old saying of Tam Todd's, “Rouk's snaw's wraith.”

2. A ghost or spectre, the apparition of a dead person (Dmf. 1920; Uls. 1953 Traynor). Gen. (exc. I.) Sc. Hence wraith-like, ghost-like.Ayr. 1786 Burns Fragment viii.:
An' Chatham's wraith, in heav'nly graith, . . . Wi' kindling eyes, cry'd: “Willie, rise!”
Sc. 1811 Scott Letters (Cent. Ed.) II. 529:
If I should walk in the morning after you receive my letter, pray do not take me for a wraith.
Slk. 1820 Hogg Tibby Johnston's Wraith (1874) 188:
When the wraith appears after death, that's the soul o' the deceased, that gets liberty to appear to the ane of a' its acquaintances that is the soonest to follow it.
Ags. 1833 J. S. Sands Poems 135:
It's cluttie come, as sure as death; Or, gude preserve's! my first man's wraith.
Rnf. 1865 J. Young Pictures 126:
Their leggies gat wraith-like, their cheekies gat death-like.
Abd. 1868 G. MacDonald R. Falconer iii. ix.:
Are ye seein' a vraith, Robert?
Sh. 1892 G. Stewart Tales 241:
He claspit a wraith, it was lifeless and cauld.
Sc. 1924 A. Gray Any Man's Life 23:
Is it her wraith walks by my side Or some dead ghost of me?

3. Used gen. for any kind of fantastic image or sense-beguiling apparition.Peb. 1818 J. Affleck Waes o' Whisky 7:
Drink's a writh to a' the senses.
Abd. 1831 Aberdeen Mag. 642:
We thought it was certainly the wraeth o' some wracket ship, manned wi' the ghaists o' the Diel's bairns.
Rnf. a.1854 Recent Sc. Poets (Murdoch 1883) 170:
Is life a dulesum glamour a'? The wearie wraith o' daffin' past?
m.Lth. 1870 J. Lauder Warblings 67:
I wad rather starve to death Than ye wrought against the warnin' o' yon grusome awfu' wraith.
Lnk. 1919 G. Rae Clyde & Tweed 29:
The darkenin' clood o' loss like dreepin' haur Gaed rowin' 'cross the Pentlands, and like a dark wraith lay.

4. A water-sprite, a ghost that haunts rivers and streams (Sc. 1808 Jam.). See also water-wraith, s.v. Water, n., 6.(96).

[O.Sc. wrath, a phantom, doubleganger, 1513, of obscure orig.]

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"Wraith n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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